CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — A planning application to put a 6.7-megawatt solar array on Hubbs Road has moved nearby residents to ask the town to take a closer look at the town code.
Landowner Anthony Pappa is seeking to have 16,896 photovoltaic solar panels installed in the middle of his 88-acre parcel on the north side of the road. The site is near the intersection with Schauber Road.
His application and the discussions that have taken place during multiple Planning Board reviews have moved neighboring residents to ask if the influx of large solar arrays into the greater community has any limits whatsoever.
The town of Clifton Park has approved five private solar farm applications in the last three years. In contrast, the Town Board in the neighboring Town of Ballston approved an 11-month moratorium on development this summer which specifically prevents applications for solar arrays.
The Pappa site is zoned Conservation-Residential (CR). In order to move forward, the project must receive site plan approval as well as a special use permit from the Planning Board.
Since its initial appearance in July a visual impact study was undertaken from Schauber Road and part of the solar array has been pulled back 200 feet from the road. In recent weeks the project’s landscape engineers have added a proposal to plant a double row of spruce trees seven to eight-foot-tall on the parcel’s eastern border after concerns were raised by an adjacent neighbor.
Residents living across Hubbs Road from the site as well as others living nearby on Schauber and Hubbs roads have expressed concerns that their quality of life and their property values will be reduced by the project.
During a virtual Planning Board meeting Oct. 14, several residents expressed their concerns, which they have raised at past meetings, and questioned the value and the authority found in the text of the town’s CR zoning regulations.
Several of the arguments made by the residents are much the same as those made by members of Friends of Clifton Park Open Space during a recent public hearing to allow amendments to the Edison Club PDD. The amendments will bring major changes to that parcel. The Edison Club is another parcel zoned CR.
Attorney Helen Wilson lives across Hubbs Road from the solar project. As she has done previously, Wilson voiced her opposition to the project saying it violated 16 points of the town code and will decrease property values of all those living near it.
“Why are there no trees being planted on Hubbs Road,” she asked. “Trees are being planted on the eastern boundary. There are uplands away from the road. You can see in there 200 feet. This project is absolutely going to destroy the view.”
Ralph Savage on Schauber also voiced his opposition to the plan during the meeting.
As an attorney with GE, now retired, Savage said he too had read the town code and saw nothing in it about the commercial use of solar. The regulations, he said, are the result of a very large private solar collector built in a resident’s backyard years ago, and the code relates to powering a primary residence only.
“It seems to me to expand this section [of the code] to include a solar array is way beyond the scope,” he said.
Town Planning Director John Scavo noted he recently read that section of the code and it gave him pause. However, Building and Zoning Director Steve Myers has said the project is an allowable use with a special use permit.
Referencing the text of the CR Zone itself, Savage said it seemed impossible that a solar array this size could protect and enhance rural character and scenic qualities as stated in the code.
“There’s a huge negative impact to all neighboring residents,” he said.
Another resident opposing the project was Hubbs Road resident Bill Dahlin. His home is directly across the street from where the solar panels are going.
“I’m asking that the solar field be positioned so it doesn’t impact us,” he said during the meeting. “The developer should bear the burden of inconvenience, not the property owners.”
One participant supporting the project was town resident and environmentalist Joanne Coons. As she has at other reviews of the project, Coons noted in the virtual chatroom that the solar array will have fewer negatives than a housing development on the site.
According to Scavo, the site could be developed for 28 single-family homes.
Though not an official public hearing, members of the Planning Board clearly heard the residents’ concerns. Board member Emad Andawaris, who acknowledged he lives farther down Hubbs Road, noted the conundrum of a code that allows land to be developed for large solar arrays in a CR Zone.
“We’re taking out land that we are trying to preserve with the CR Zone,” he said.
Board alternate Keith Martin said it appears developers who work in the CR Zone in town aren’t being held to the same standards as other developers.
Board Chairman Rocco Ferraro said he had heard the residents’ concerns and the question now was what can be done to hide the solar panels from their viewscape.
“That’s the concern being presented and I’m trying to find a way to mitigate that,” he said. “If we don’t reduce the number of panels we’ll have to put some buffering in.”
Ferraro formed a committee to visit the site.